On the heels of Father Jenkins’s announcement that he will, for the first time, participate in the Washington, D.C. March for Life came the startling news that the University had approved the payment of expenses of students participating in a gay rights March with an agenda colliding with fundamental Church teachings.
Then the University announced that the Board of Trustees, praising Father Jenkins for his commitment to the Catholic character of the University, had elected him to another term as President.
As a sidelight the press reported an unsettling liturgical lunge by Father Richard McBrien.
NOTRE DAME AND THE “MARCH FOR EQUALITY”
The Observer first broke the news about the “surprise move from the Student Activities Office” approving funding for student members of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) to attend “a national gay rights demonstration in Washington, D.C.” This triggered a flurry of reports by Internet news services (Catholic News Agency, Life Site News, and Cardinal Newman Society) including celebratory notices on gay sites and critical commentary on religious sites, as well as a detailed account in The Washington Times.
The aim of the March was to secure “[e]qual protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.” Gay marriage was a special goal, but adoption by gays, for example, was also included. No wonder the University’s approval was a “surprise” to the students.
While in Washington, the students “hung out in the gay neighborhood of the city,” participated in some preliminary rallies, and then joined the march to the Capitol, during which “people chanted “Hey, Obama, let mama marry mama.” The students missed the President’s speech, in which he renewed his pledge of support.
We sought an explanation from the University, as did the respected religion editor of The Washington Times, Julia Duin. Neither she nor we succeeded. As Ms. Duin reported: “Dennis Brown, spokesman for the university, did not answer questions…about why one of the nation’s pre-eminent Catholic institutions approved the trip, although he did e-mail a brief statement saying the PSA sponsored the journey.” In “a short phone conversation “ he added that the PSA “only needed approval from the faculty advisor.” In his message to us, Mr. Brown observed also that the money came from PSA’s student activities account, which is comprised of PSA’s share of the fees charged students by the University and sometimes money from other approved sources.
In pursuing the matter with Mr. Brown, we pointed out that the question has nothing to do with which account the money came from. Rather,
“[Our] question was, and is, why that approval was given. Surely the University is not indifferent to the uses to which the money is put….Should we think that the University would approve the use of these funds to pay the expenses of students to attend, say, a convention of the American Nazi Party?”
We concluded, “[I]f you now wish to offer a reason for the University’s having sanctioned this use of the money, [we] would appreciate receiving it promptly.” Otherwise, we wrote, we “will assume the University chooses to say nothing in explanation of this action.”
We heard no more from Mr. Brown.
The Administration could easily have disavowed this action, evidently made by a faculty member. Instead, they have ratified it by their considered silence.
Having decided to acquiesce in this action, the Administration had to remain silent because, as alumnus Joseph Lawler (’08), writing for The American Spectator, points out, “[T]here’s not really a way for the administration to spin this.” The students were “protesting for the state to legitimate what the Church perceives as sinful,” and Notre Dame can’t “claim that there is a common ground position or an opportunity for ‘dialogue,’ as they tried with President Obama.”
The many strongly critical reactions we have received are well represented by this message to the University by a summa cum laude 2009 graduate:
I ask you to remove my email and contact informationINDEFINITELY from every listserve, mailing list, contact, etc. designed to solicit from me donations to the general fund at Notre Dame. When ND ceases its open and aggressive opposition to Christ and the Church, I will consider supporting Notre Dame with an unmarked donation. I am not interested in interactive websites telling me how much the Church is flourishing at Notre Dame. I cannot bear the sadness of hearing how thoroughly the Prince of Darkness has infiltrated the once-hallowed halls of Our Lady’s university. I just can’t bear it any longer. In the time being I will donate only to those organizations whose commitment to the Church is not in doubt, and I will pray fervently for the conversion of those who have the authority to steer the university on a more faithful course.
FATHER JENKINS REAPPOINTED
Since a series of actions by Father Jenkins has opened a breach between University and Church and has depreciated Notre Dame’s principal asset, its reputation as a robustly Catholic institution, many thought he might not serve a second term. The trouble began with his early sanction of The Vagina Monologuesand the Queer Film Festival, a highly controversial action he took without even discussing it with Bishop John M. D’Arcy, who strongly objected. Then came other incidents we have reported such as the Administration’s refusal to withdraw University support from a faculty group promoting pro-abortion organizations. The difficulties intensified when fifty bishops decided to move a conference of a committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops away from the campus because of the Monologues. And the University’s troubles exploded into national prominence with the honoring of the Church’s most formidable adversary on abortion and embryonic stem cell issues, President Obama.
Now, the association of the University with the “March for Equality” shows that, as Joseph Lawler put it, “Notre Dame clearly didn’t learn anything from their commencement debacle.”
Nevertheless, the Board, citing Father Jenkins’s “commitment to the Catholic character of the University” and his “innovative” contributions, announced on October 16th his election to a second five-year term.
(We can furnish only a press release because, in response to our request for the text of the two Board resolutions, the University said, “The Board and Fellows have decided against making the full resolutions public.”)
To be sure, some of Father Jenkins’s contributions – such as those we have summarized – have undeniably been “innovative.” Nothing in the past can match them. But to assert that they are consistent with a “commitment to the Catholic character of the University” robs the term “Catholic” of its substance. It describes a disembodied, self-defined Catholicism. The word “Church” is not mentioned. It scarcely could be.
Notwithstanding Father Jenkins’s announcement that he will attend the March for Life and his establishment of a Task Force on life issues, pro-life sources have reacted negatively to his re-appointment. (“Many, however, have said that these words and deeds are empty gestures meant simply to pacify his critics, especially given Jenkins’ continued unwillingness to seek leniency for the 88 pro-life protesters arrested on Notre Dame’s campus on the day of Commencement.”)
FATHER MCBRIEN’S CHURCH
One Notre Dame scholar’s version of Church has been well publicized over the years by Father Richard P. McBrien, former Chair of the Theology Department, prolific author and frequent commentator on religious issues.
His view of the appropriate relationship of the University to its bishop seems to have taken hold at Notre Dame:
Bishops should be welcome on a Catholic-university campus. Give them tickets to ball games. Let them say mass. Bring them to graduation. Let them sit on the stage. But there should be nothing beyond that. (Chronicles of Higher Education Nov 22 1996)
Now he has weighed in against Eucharistic Adoration.
Five years ago dedicated students, with the support of some faculty and priests, secured approval to re-establish the Notre Dame tradition of an annual Eucharistic Procession. Along with Eucharistic Adoration, the Eucharistic Procession has grown impressively.
Oddly, Father McBrien finds it “difficult to speak favorably about the practice [of Eucharistic adoration] today.” In a recently-published article, Father McBrien asserts that for “literate and well-educated Catholics Eucharistic adoration…is a doctrinal, theological, and spiritual step backward, not forward.” Presumably his reference to “well-educated Catholics” would include the students and the priests and faculty members who support and encourage them.[separator line=”yes”]